Saturday, December 26, 2015

Waste Not, Want Not

While it's entirely possible I've written about this before, the chances that you'll remember are vanishingly slim. I don't, and it's my blog. Anyway, this is all about reusing things that still have some life in them, anyway. So there.

I bought this "tree" (I use quotation marks advisedly) about three years ago. At the time, "pre-lit" was supposed to be a selling point. However, the fact that cheap Christmas lights burn out faster than artificial trees biodegrade was not adequately explored in the promotional copy.

Setting it up a couple of weeks ago I found that some of the lights were no longer functioning. I strung additional ones. More lights have gone out. It's beginning to exhibit tree-pattern baldness. And some friends, friends who have never known what it is to go without, are telling me to throw the tree away and buy a new one.

Not so fast.

My paternal grandparents were both Cornell graduates, so you know. My grandfather had a B.S. in Agriculture. My grandmother had a B.S. in Home Economics. Don't laugh - she could do things you can only dream of. Forget about merely being a good cook and housekeeper. She could make clothes - elaborate, coordinated, ornamental outfits, with smocking, embroidery, and so on. She crocheted carpets and furniture coverings. She kept a home garden perfectly capable of supplying most of the needs for her family. She prepared and canned food. There was an industrial freezer in their mudroom, where the snowshoes were kept, with years' worth of rutabaga and corn and apples and soybeans. Honey was down cellar. It's kind of funny, as someone who follows the locally-sourced, natural foods movement to note how heavily these well-stocked supplies of local produce were supplemented with cheaply-available commodities like oleo, Wonder Bread, Spam, and powdered milk. But so it was.

My grandmother wasted nothing. Christmas wrappings were carefully slit with a penknife and folded away for reuse. I let my kids tear off the paper, but never, never, never have I knowingly thrown away a Christmas bow. Why would you do that?

And every year, when it came time (January 6, thankyouverymuch, this atheist reminds you) to take down the Christmas tree, my grandparents carefully and painstakingly picked off every strand of tinsel icicle to reuse the following year.

Naturally, after a while, the tinsel icicles were a little less icy-looking. Eventually they were just straight-up gray. They were limp; they were dull. But, not having actually disintegrated into dust, they were carefully gathered and folded away every year. So one year, being a teenager, and fancying myself pretty well versed in the ways of the modern world, I shelled out $0.89 for a package of shiny new tinsel icicles, and gave them to my grandparents for Christmas.

They opened them, and thanked me. They marked them down on the running list of who-had-bought-what-for-whom, to be referred to in composing thank-you notes later. And, solemnly, as if I weren't being a complete little shit, they laid them aside, to be opened whenever the old ones should wear out. I have a feeling - I may have blocked the memory - that we came across the unopened package among Grandma's effects many years later, after they had died. But maybe not, because I think if so, I would still have them.

That's what's on my mind whenever anyone (including my own internal voice) tells me, just throw this tree away. Just get a new one. Get one without pre-strung lights, then, if you don't want to be wasteful. But this one's a write-off. Pitch it.

On January 7 I expect to be going through it with a pair of cheaters and fine-gauge wire cutters, making it ready for next year, and many, many years to come. I could hardly face Grandma otherwise.


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